Monday, April 30, 2012

April 2012 End Of The Month Update!

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This month, we had our second-best month and there was another new addition to our Top 10 Reviews Of All Time!

April had a daunting challenge; coming on the heels of our most-successful month yet, April had big shoes to fill. Those shoes proved to be just a little too big for the blog, but there was still measurable growth over the former second best month on the blog and the traffic did not slip down to the level of February! For the third month in a row, there was movement within the Top 10 reviews of all time! This was the second month where our monthly traffic exceeded 10% of the blog's all-time total traffic, so we're hoping very much to continue to see growth.

To that end, we picked up two new subscribers!!!!! It's always great to see growth in our subscribing reader base and for the first time in a while, we had that in April. If you're reading, now's a great time to subscribe!

In April, we were able to keep the Index Pages up and updated the entire month, making for a very dynamic website. The primary Index Page, which is now updated daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. By purchasing items through the links on the blog, you sponsor my ability to continue reviewing. Thank you so much for that support!

At the end of April, I have reviewed the following:
347 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Graphic Novels
487 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
1531 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
151 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
449 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
449 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
NEW! Cereal
Other Food
104 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
100 - Travel Reviews
88 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
108 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
71 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
19 - Other Product Reviews

My featured review for April is my review of God Bless America! Check it out!

For April, the Top Ten Reviews were my reviews of:
10. Playboy Women Of Starbucks
9. Strangers With Candy - Season 1
8. Thor
7. Battleship
6. Piranha 3D
5. The Lucky One
4. 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid
3. Labyrinth 12" Talking Jareth The Goblin King Figure
2. The Three Stooges
1. The Avengers

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 233 reviews
9s - 294 reviews
8s - 498 reviews
7s - 526 reviews
6s - 470 reviews
5s - 644 reviews
4s - 443 reviews
3s - 372 reviews
2s - 158 reviews
1s - 107 reviews
0s - 60 reviews
No rating - 17 articles/postings

And, if you haven't checked out the top reviews of all time, at the end of March, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. He's Just Not That Into You
9. 2011 Harry Potter "Fleeing The Fiendfyre" Hallmark Ornament
8. The Star Wars Saga on Blu-Ray
7. Anne Hathaway For Wonder Woman!
6. Friends With Benefits
5. Project X
4. Breaking Dawn, Part 1
3. The Avengers
2. The Hunger Games
1. Star Trek: Machinations Of Doomsday

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Nog Gets Real Character Conflict With “It’s Only A Paper Moon!”

The Good: Excellent acting, Great character work, Decent plot
The Bad: Annoying “reverse psychology” with Vic Fontaine
The Basics: With his return to the station, Nog finds life has all sorts of new challenges he is not yet ready to face in “It’s Only A Paper Moon.”

One of the impressive aspects of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is how the show took seemingly minor characters and developed them into fully-realized, interesting characters who could hold both scenes and entire episodes. One of the characters who had a surprisingly extensive character arc on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was Nog. As the show wound down, Nog continued to get some truly intriguing storylines. Nog’s final spotlight episode was “It’s Only A Paper Moon.”

“It’s Only A Paper Moon” stands out in the story of Deep Space Nine as an intimate character arc and while it has never attained the stature of “The Visitor” (reviewed here!) or “Duet” (reviewed here!), it is still an impressive episode. Like all the best episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it focuses quite tightly on a character dilemma and really explores the character of Nog in a way that is very revealing. The episode is a follow-up to “The Siege Of AR-558” (reviewed here!) and it helps to watch that episode before seeing “It’s Only A Paper Moon.”

When Nog returns to Deep Space Nine with his new robotic leg, he is uncharacteristically distant. While the officers and his friends try to engage him, he professes to be tired and Ezri encourages everyone to give him a little space to recover from his trauma. Nog takes to lying in bed, listening to recordings of Vic Fontaine singing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” as it brought him comfort while he was in the sickbay on AR-558. Jake, however, quickly tires of hearing it and he swipes Nog’s recording.

So, Nog goes to the holosuite to visit Vic Fontaine himself. Enamored with the world of Vic Fontaine, Nog decides that the holosuite is going to be his choice of place to recover. Things go fairly well for Nog there, despite Rom being frustrated by his son’s reclusion. Nog starts helping Vic build a larger casino facility and he becomes entirely invested in the fake world, at the expense of his life outside the holosuite. But when Dax visits Vic on the eve of their groundbreaking, she leaves the hologram with something to consider that will change things for Nog.

“It’s Only A Paper Moon” does a fairly decent job of fleshing out both Nog and Vic Fontaine and the only real problem I have with the episode is how obvious Ezri's attempt to work reverse psychology is. Vic Fontaine has been characterized as a surprisingly perceptive hologram up until this point and when Ezri has to nail home her point, it lacks some of its punch. As it is, it is not a dealbreaker for the episode. In fact, the fact that Vic slips a little bit could easily be viewed as character development and on that front, it works.

Largely, “It’s Only A Paper Moon” focuses on Nog, though and even the potentially melodramatic moments of him and Jake fighting work in the context of the episode. In fact, upon rewatching “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” one of the things that always strikes me is how so very much is forgiven by the epiphanic moment for Nog's character. When Nog finally tells Vic Fontaine how he is feeling, the moment is one of the defining ones for the Nog character, on par with his revelation in "Heart Of Stone" (reviewed here!) about not wanting to end up like his father!

What “It’s Only A Paper Moon” does even better than the prior high water mark for the Nog character is give Aron Eisenberg the space to truly emote. When Nog wrestles with what it means to lose his leg, Aron Eisenberg is granted the great dramatic opportunity to shine and present a more serious side of what has frequently been a comedic or troublingly monolithic character. And when the chance comes, Eisenberg takes it, embracing the opportunity to have Nog express both genuine difficulty with describing his emotions and then later breaking down.

“It’s Only A Paper Moon” is light on special effects, but once again employs James Darren's voice as a sterling example of how great a male vocalist can be. That's a pretty special effect in my book! “It’s Only A Paper Moon” might be the best, low-tech episode of the series and, in true Star Trek: Deep Space Nine tradition, part of the success comes from the fact that the series is prioritizing an underutilized character played by a superior performer who is finally given a real chance to show their worth!

[Knowing that the season is a much better investment, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which provides the full story for the conclusion to the series. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode, movie and DVD set reviews, be sure to visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Arguably The Most Surprising Disappointment From DC Direct’s Blackest Night Toy Line Is The Red Lantern Mera!

The Good: Great-looking sculpt, Generally good balance
The Bad: Could use a lot more articulation, Collectible value, Hand molding, Accessory inarticulation.
The Basics: Despite looking pretty amazing, the Red Lantern Mera figure is more of a statue than a toy!

I cannot think of a Blackest Night figure I was looking forward to more in my last buying spree than the Red Lantern Mera action figure. My collection could always use more women and more villains and the Red Lantern Mera figure hits on both of those criteria. Unfortunately, this is one of the least-articulated DC Direct action figures I have come across and it seems like the company is hoping fans will not notice how many problems the figure actually has by loading it up with accessories. Sadly, they are not all they ought to be and the result is a very disappointing release.

For those unfamiliar with her, Red Lantern Mera is the rage-filled Queen of Atlantis. Turned during Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Volume 2 (reviewed here!), Mera becomes a powerful adversary that Wonder Woman must turn and focus in order to stop her from killing anyone as the embodiment of rage that she has become.

It is the red-suited Mera with a visage frozen in mid-scream that is the subject of the DC Direct figure!


The Red Lantern Mera figure is well-detailed, which makes the figure with the red-scaled outfit appear desireable. The rage-infected wife of Aquaman 6 3/4" tall to the tip of the figure's crown. Her skin is fair and only visible on the hands, face and bust. The Red Lantern Mera figure is available only from DC Direct.

This toy is an initially wonderful sculpt, especially for a character that has only had two-dimensional references, Red Lantern Mera looks good in all three dimensions. DC Direct gave the figure comic book heroine breasts, but the detailing on aspects like the fingernails is much more realistic. The character’s hands are molded mostly open, which makes it virtually impossible for the figure to hold anything. At various points around the character, there are coral spines and this makes the Red Lantern Mera distinctive and dangerous-looking. On her abdomen is the Red Lantern symbol and, appropriately, this Mera has no eye definition as she is literally blind with rage! The figure’s hair is brushed to one side, as if there is a strong force blowing upon her hair. The sculpt is so detailed that the right hand features the Red Lantern ring upon her ring finger and all over her catsuit-like costume, there are scales.

Red Lantern Mera's costume features strong monotone colors: the red metallic costume covers all but Mera’s head, hair and hands. The hair has decent highlights in the orange mane, so it does not look like anything other than it ought to. The spines have incredible coloring detail, with grays, off-whites and browns that make them look like they are coral. The skin tones of the Red Lantern Mera are monotonal.


Red Lantern Mera, angriest woman in the galaxy, comes loaded with three accessories in addition to her stand. She has Dex-Starr, her Atlantean staff, and her Red Lantern. The stand is a red and white disk with the Red Lantern logo. It is 3 3/4" in diameter and 1/4” tall and it has a single peg which plugs into the hole in Red Lantern Mera's right foot. She is very stable on his base, even in extravagant poses. However, the peg in my base immediately came out (it pops out the bottom), which is more than a little annoying.

Dex-Starr is, for those who do not know, the little abused cat who is given a Red Lantern ring and becomes surprisingly ferocious. The Dex-Starr mini-figure is a neat accessory . . . by its look. It is well-sculpted and well-colored, but cannot stand and is only articulated with a simple swivel joint at the head. That lowers its overall coolness, as far as I am concerned.

The staff from Atlantis is a 6 5/8” tall pike with a broad, trident top. The copper-bronze coloring to it has a sheen that helps the trident match the coloring detail of the rest of the figure, but with its smooth lines and very tight ribbing on the grip, at a distance it looks a little underdetailed in Mera’s hands.

Finally, the Red Lantern Mera comes with her actual Red Lantern power battery. The power battery is a 1 7/8” tall by 1 1/4" wide and deep rounded lantern with a flat handle. The handle detaches fairly easily from the actual lantern battery, but it reattaches just as easily. The only real problem with the lantern accessory is that Mera cannot really hold it.


The DC Direct figures were designed more for display than play. Red Lantern Mera is cool only for display. She has excellent balance, though it is always better on her stand. Because she lacks a hinge joint on the ankle, when off the stand, Red Lantern Mera must be posed flatfooted or she is likely to fall over.

Red Lantern Mera comes with only nine supposed points of articulation, which is pretty poor, even by today's standards. Red Lantern Mera has joints at the knees, groin socket, shoulders, elbows, and head. The shoulders are proper ball and socket joints, while the elbows and knees are both hinge joints. The head is on a ball joint, but the solid hair of the figure prevents it from moving even three degrees!

The real problem for both poseability and playability, other than the lack of wrist articulation, is that the hands are molded too far open to securely hold either of the accessories. The fact that the Red Lantern accessory is more often than not going to fall out of Mera’s hands and Dex-Starr pretty much lays on the base next to Mera makes it much lower on the play and display scales than I would have hoped.


The Red Lantern Mera is part of the DC Direct Blackest Night Series 7 line which was fairly common and seemed to be populated by characters fans were not immediately drawn to. The Red Lantern Mera is one of four villains in the wave, but as a cool looking female character toy, Red Lantern Mera continues to be in demand. Despite the Red Lantern Mera is an obscure character in an obscure corner of the story the Red Lantern Mera figure has already increased in value by about half. Most of the DC Direct female character figures tend to appreciate and it looks like the Red Lantern Mera is headed in that direction, despite the issues with her quality.


I cannot remember the last time I opened a figure I had been so looking forward to and discovered it was so lacking on as many fronts as the Red Lantern Mera is. The lack of articulation and ability to hold the accessories is a huge drawback for this figure, despite how neat the sculpt is. I’d argue that fans who want the figure for anything but a very academic type display of superheroes and villains may want to wait for DC Direct to give this one another pass!

For other Blackest Night figures, please check out my reviews of:
Wave 8 Black Lantern Black Flash
Wave 8 Indigo Tribe The Atom
Wave 7 Arkillo
Wave 6 Blue Lantern The Flash
Wave 6 Star Sapphire Wonder Woman
Wave 5 Nekron
Wave 2 Indigo-1
Wave 1 Saint Walker


For other toy reviews, please check out my Toy Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Britney Spears Creates Music About Being Promiscuous . . . Then Complains About It On Femme Fatale!

The Good: Decent production elements, A couple of the lyrics are actually insightful, Deluxe edition has good extra content
The Bad: Almost none of Spears’ natural voice is on the album, Overproduced, Some truly banal lines.
The Basics: Femme Fatale redefines Britney Spears entirely as a dance music performer . . . one who is kind of skanky.

I have a weird intellectual relationship with the music of Britney Spears. Long ago, I bought her first single (“. . .Baby One More Time”) in order to support an emerging artist who I honestly did not see going anywhere significant. Now, almost a decade and a half later, the egg is obviously on my face, but after a slew of listens to the deluxe edition of Femme Fatale, I feel like I can easily live with myself. The reason is simple; on Femme Fatale, Britney Spears is so far from her roots, both musically and in terms of personal style/statement, that the trajectory was almost entirely unpredictable.

Actually, it is entirely predictable if one factors in selling out completely.

With Femme Fatale, Britney Spears burns off the last possible remnants of her “good girl” image in favor of a fully sexual adult woman. And hey, I’m all for that (despite being utterly disappointed by how drastically this incarnation of Britney Spears is from the young artist I actually wanted to support), but one of the fundamental thematic issues with Femme Fatale is that Spears herself does not seem entirely comfortable with it. On an album filled with somewhat dopy love songs about wanting the “bad boy” and advocating infidelity to do what feels good, Spears pleads in offended tones “Shame on me / To need release” (“I Wanna Go”). It’s a perfectly valid feeling and I respected Spears for singing it when I first heard the song on the radio. But after hearing the rest of Femme Fatale, it sounds like a high cost call girl complaining about being objectified.

With fifteen tracks clocking out at 58:43, Femme Fatale is marginally the work of Britney Spears. She did not write any of the songs on the album, though she is credited as one of the album’s composers. As always, she did not perform any of the instrumental accompaniment on the album, nor was she responsible for any of the production. It appears that Femme Fatale is simply an album she showed up to sing on. This means that, at best, Spears is being framed as all of the writers and producers of the album wanted to make her. Unfortunately, she goes along with it and the result is an album that is unsatisfying in many ways . . . but annoyingly addictive.

Femme Fatale is a solid dance pop album. Stripped of any ballads (the Deluxe version comes close with “He About To Lose Me,” but it’s still a sweaty song designed to get people swaying), the whole purpose of Femme Fatale appears to be to get listeners dancing, grinding and pretty much screwing on the dance floor. The bass is heavy on virtually every track (one is even called “Big Fat Bass”) and the synthesized melodies are largely less tunes as they are stepping instructions for dance movements.

Vocally, Femme Fatale is entirely a wash. The album is so massively overproduced that there is not a single distinctive moment where the natural voice of Britney Spears comes through. Even on “Trouble For Me,” where she sings very passionately, she sounds pretty mechanized. To be fair, she supplies many of her own backing vocals, so frequently, she is just singing over herself in addition to the engineers removing her actual voice.

Thematically, Femme Fatale is a huge bowl of problems. First, it seems like Femme Fatale is actually trying to live up to the title, but it too often goes backward. So, a femme fatale tends to be a maneater, a woman who will use a man for sex and/or money and then leave them ruined. Yet, on the album Femme Fatale, Spears seems confused about that role. When she sings, “You know I can make your night / You wanna get it? / You got something that I like / But I might regret it / Me and you were a disaster / And you're only a danger to me / But the party ain't the same without you / That's why you're so good for everybody else / But you're trouble for me” (“Trouble For Me”), it is pretty clear she is not creating a cohesive concept album.

It is hard to deny that Femme Fatale has a concept album feel to it, though. It is so preoccupied with sex and sexuality that the album almost seems monotonous at times. The typical song is fairly mechanical in the way it treats sex and even desire. With lines like “I got all tricked up and came up to this thing / Lookin' so fire hot / A 20 out of 10 / I saw you watching me, watching you on the floor / Hitting me up like, what you waiting for? / It's alright to say you want it / Get inside my dirty mind . . . The beat just dropped and the room got sexy / You're watching me like there's no one else around . . . So keep watching me go down and up and down” (“Up ‘N Down”), Spears and her people are hardly creating a new manifesto of feminism.

Instead, Femme Fatale plays as a combination of yearning and fulfilling at all costs. The Spears persona on the album is eager to get whatever she wants, like declaring “Ooh boy / You so fine / Gotta be the finest thing / That I seen in my life / I will pay whatever / Just to get a better view / And yeah, your body looks so sick / I think I caught the flu” (“(Drop Dead) Beautiful”). But it’s a pretty skanky approach to the whole idea of relationships and the version Spears presents is one who puts on shows, flaunts it and then still complains that people begrudge her her sexual side!

I have no problem with Britney Spears, her sexual side, her cerebral side or her musical persona’s desire to sleep around, commit infidelity and declare romantic commitment to all the wrong people. The problem is the hypocrisy. Femme Fatale tries to blend surprisingly smart emotional statements with inane dance beats and ridiculous notions of sex without any emotional consequences. I suspect that Femme Fatale wore me down and that the repetition of this album greatly enhanced its rating. The message may range from conflicted to deplorable, but the album is danceable and it sounds good, if not terribly human.

For other reviews of Britney Spears music, please check out my reviews of:
. . . Baby One More Time (single)
From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart (single)
Stronger (single)
Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know (single)
I'm A Slave 4 U (single)
Overprotected (single)
Me Against The Music (single with Madonna)
Toxic (single)
Gimme More (single)
The Singles Collection
The Singles Collection (2-disc CD/DVD with videos)
The Singles Collection (Deluxe Collector's Edition)


Check out how this album stacks up against other musical works by visiting my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the albums and singles I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Not Getting My Vote: Cheez-It Colby Snack Crackers Are Pretty Disappointing!

The Good: Comparatively inexpensive.
The Bad: Indistinct taste, Problematic smell, Not overly healthy
The Basics: As Sunshine Biscuit has fans voting on Cheez-It flavors, I lean against saving the Colby Cheez-It !

Despite being, generally, on a health kick, I have succumbed to my wife’s desire to treat me to the occasional salty snack these days. This has left me eating pretty much whatever she gets me for review and today, that is Cheez-It Colby baked snack crackers. This is, as a very good exception to the general rule of my wife getting me great stuff, a virtually inedible snack cracker.

Actually, they are not terrible, but the problem is that they are not very good at all. As a result, these salty crackers with a somewhat off-putting aroma made it easy to pan and pass by in the future!


Colby Cheez-It, for those who are not familiar with them, are baked snack crackers. Sunshine Biscuits has marketed their Cheez-It chip line as a fairly high quality, but inexpensive bite-sized cracker. In recent years, they have flooded the market with new flavors of Cheez-It crackers and that has yielded some interesting results. Unfortunately, the Colby flavor is not one of their best attempts. The chips look like small square cheese wedges. The Colby flavored Cheez-It crackers are a slightly lighter orange than the standard Cheddar Cheez-Its.

Colby Cheez-It come in various sizes, but usually in a bag inside a box. The standard size box that I have found is 13 oz. The crackers are square and approximately 7/8" by 7/8" by 3/16”. Each cracker has a hole in the center and slightly scalloped edges.

Ease Of Preparation

Cheez-It Colby are simple to enjoy; all you need do it open the bag inside the box and remove the crackers from it! There is no trick to eating Colby Cheez-It; they are a snack that is ready to go from the package to the mouth.


Colby Cheez-It smell surprisingly sour, like actual Colby cheese. The scent is actually somewhat unappealing as it instantly made me think of either expensive cheese or spoiled milk.

Fortunately, in the mouth, Colby Cheez-It crackers are salty and dry, with a strongly cheesy flavor that is very much what one expects of Colby. Colby is not one of the most distinctive or forceful cheeses in the pantheon of cheeses, but these crackers have a flavor that is more than just salty, like many crackers. There is a slightly sour, barely bitter aftertaste that is reminiscent of a cheese flavor.

Even with the flavor hit, the aftertaste of Colby Cheez-It crackers is simply dry and somewhat unpleasantly so. These crackers left a somewhat acidic taste in my throat.


Colby Cheez-It are nowhere near all-natural, nor are they particularly healthy. Loaded with preservatives, they are made primarily of enriched flou, vegetable oil and cheese made with skim milk. These snacks have a pretty limited shelf life; our box, which we bought in February, had a June 21 (2012) expiration date.

Each twenty-one gram serving of Cheez-It Colby has 110 calories, fifty of which come from fat. There is less than one gram of dietary fiber. While there are 6 grams of fat and 2 grams of protein, there is a pretty hefty 160 mg of sodium, which represents 7% of one's RDA of sodium. There is a smattering of Calcium and Iron, but no vitamins, including Vitamin C. There is a dietary note that the Colby includes wheat, soy and milk ingredients, which prevents them from being Vegan compliant at the very least.


Kept in their bag, Colby Cheez-It will remain fresh for a year and as long as the bag is resealed, one suspects they will last for a few weeks before getting stale. I've never had to deal with issues of freshness for my Colby Cheez-It.

Cleanup is simple as well. Colby Cheez-It are a dry food and thus leave no mess behind. Because they are very flavored, though, it is entirely probable that they will leave salt on one’s hands. Simply wash your hands, throw out the bag and cleanup is done!


Colby Cheez-It are a mediocre flavor that does not inspire one to continue trying the other, better, flavors of Cheez-It crackers!

For other snack foods, check out my reviews of:
Special K Southwest Ranch Cracker Chips
Tostitos Hint Of Lime Tortilla Chips
Planters Flavor Grove Vanilla and Caramel Almonds


For other food and drink reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Tarantino Film Worth Watching: Jackie Brown!

The Good: Excellent acting, Good story, Amusing, Intriguing characters, Good pace
The Bad: Some of the dialog, or more accurately, the diction of criminals.
The Basics: An excellent cast, utilized well and put in an interesting plot makes Jackie Brown a success. Bare with the language.

While nine out of ten reviewers might recommend the drug-filled, openly violent (and bloody), foul-language flick Pulp Fiction, by Quentin Tarantino, Jackie Brown is the best work of his I've yet seen. Well, to be fair to Tarantino, I've been itching to see Reservoir Dogs for years and I enjoyed his guest stint on Alias in that show’s first season.

The film is pretty simple in plot, despite the workings and reworkings of it throughout the film. Quite simply, Jackie Brown is about airline stewardess Jackie Brown who is smuggling money into the country for gun runner Ordell. In the process, Jackie is caught and extorted by the feds as well as aided by a bail bondsman named Cherry. After establishing the characters, Jackie Brown turns into a sting/heist/plan to smuggle in $500,000 and bring down Ordell in the process. As she works that whole angle, she and bail bondsman Cherry come closer and closer together.

What works in the film is not the glorified robber plot. Instead, it's the characters. They are interesting, to say the least. The gun runner surrounds himself with a classy smuggler, a mope of a hitman and a jailbait girl. Strangely, all of those characters have enough to them to watch over and over again.

Equally as good, they are well acted. While Samuel L. Jackson gives his usual great performance as the slick illegal arms dealer Ordell, the film is stolen by Robert Forster, who plays Cherry. His acting is subtle and he plays the part with a number of nuances; a tick of the eyebrow here, a subtle smirk there. His true greatness in this film is in his understated acting. His character is very realistic and he plays the character with a great deal of realistic detail that is often lacking in today's films. Cherry seems like someone any one of us might know, the benevolent friend who wants to see the good in everyone, though experience has taught him the opposite.

I credit that to Tarantino. The film's direction becomes rather important, even to those who don't usually notice direction. Tarantino, to his credit, captures the greatness of the actors at his disposal. Forster may be the best example, but he's not the only one. Pam Grier uses facial expressions well and with expert direction from Tarantino, they come through. Michael Keaton, who plays the federal officer who is hunting Ordell, gives a good performance that seems to be what he's good at, too; simple. His character stands out as one of the few that's flat (the other is Bridget Fonda's jailbait character). Actually, it's hard to tell if their acting is bad or they're playing poorly written characters exceptionally well. Go figure.

As it turns out, Jackie Brown is well paced, and one of the few films I can easily cite where the soundtrack is both noticeable and great. The series of songs - usually r&b by such artists as the Delphonics - is expertly used to enhance the film's visual elements.

Throughout the film there's a wonderful sense of movement, so even while two characters sit around doing drugs for a scene mulling over their options, the viewer feels like they are going somewhere. And the film picks up rapidly during the final sequence wherein Jackie attempts to foil all of her pursuers and get away with the money.

All in all, the movie comes together expertly, as do the machinations of Jackie Brown. My only true objections to the film were in language. Now I'm not usually a prude about language, but the word "nigger" is thrown around a little too often for my taste. I figure, however, that it works and isn't gratuitous here, in that the characters who keep throwing the word around are the same ones who are selling guns and doing drugs and it's pretty obvious language is just another tool being employed to illustrate the caliber of people they are.

For other works with Robert Forster, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Descendants
Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past
Heroes - Season Three
Mulholland Drive


For other movie reviews, check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Biggest Is Not Always The Best: MGM Grand Casino Bores Visitors (My 100th Travel Review!)

MGM Grand Hotel and Casino
Book a room at the MGM Grand!
Click here for the listing!

The Good: Big, Lots to do
The Bad: Very standard, Very boring, Nothing terribly distinctive.
The Basics: Nothing terribly wrong with the MGM Grand Casino, save being one of the least distinctive and most boring casinos in Las Vegas I went to.

Despite my rather rigid rating system and my deep-seated belief that the majority of our experiences will ultimately average out, I can understand some why the "average" (4-6.5/10) reviews are not the staple of most reviewers' repertoire. It's boring to write about places and things that are adequate, but not much more than that. It's tough to get interested in writing a review where you're willing to flip a coin to determining the "recommend" or "not recommend" at the end.

I've been having that problem each and every time I sat down to write my review of the MGM Grand Casino. I was there a month ago and it was the least distinctive casino I gambled at. Was it terrible? No. Was it boring? Yes. Is it anything I can clearly define? Not so much. The best analogy I can give is this: if you've been shopping at a mall for two days back to back, the stores near the end, with their shiny lights and the same brands as everywhere else pale in comparison to the stores that still have a gimmick. The MGM is just big and it's kind of dull, especially in comparison to the other Las Vegas casinos I went to.

MGM Grand Casino: came in with $5.00, left with $15.00.


The MGM Grand is a massive hotel and casino located at 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South in Las Vegas, Nevada. For those unfamiliar with Las Vegas, Las Vegas Boulevard is more commonly referred to as The Strip, the highest concentration of the most famous casinos in Las Vegas. The MGM Grand is one of the largest casinos on the Strip, dwarfing many others near it.

The MGM Grand has an equally huge parking garage next door with walkways extending from the multileveled parking structure to the casino. "Immense" would not be an inappropriate description of the MGM Grand. It is, by a fair amount, the largest casino I went in (to my knowledge or perception) while in Las Vegas. The MGM Grand boasts several thousand video slot machines and that boast is not an idle one; there were easily three thousand (if not, over five!) video slot machines on the floor of the MGM Grand casino.


The MGM Grand Casino is a fairly large casinos in Las Vegas and it feels like it is capitalizing on the space it has. All of the ceilings are high, all of the carpets are clean and the place feels like one massive hotel lobby, save the lighting. The casino is spaced and dressed up like a hotel lobby, but the lighting is surprisingly dark. The lights from the video slot machine appear more pronounced because the ceiling lights are either so far away or so inadequate that the general feel of the casino is dark, yet spacious. There is, in some ways, a movie theater feeling to the MGM Grand as a result. The main gaming floor is huge and situated with massive numbers of video slot machines headed in different directions to make traveling through them difficult; no matter how fast you want to get through this casino, you'll be obstructed by a bank of video slot machines if you keep moving forward. Believe me, I know; I went through all of the video slot machines looking for a game my mother played at the MGM Grand last year!

The high ceilings should help dissipate the cigarette and cigar smoke that is prevalent in the casino, but for some reason the place still has a rather pungent tobacco scent. For those sensitive to such things, this remains a drawback to the MGM Grand. There is at least one nonsmoking poker room, but to my knowledge, there was no nonsmoking video slot room. One wonders if there is a Las Vegas casino that would try that; if they were able to clean out any space sufficiently, I am certain there would be a market for a nonsmoking slot area, if not an entirely nonsmoking casino!

As for the "atmosphere" of the MGM Grand, I swear, I don't recall seeing a serving woman in the casino on any of my trips to the MGM Grand. In fact, the only people I saw on the floor were two information/help people wearing a suit and a pantsuit each. They were strolling around the floor, directing people where they wanted to go, observing, etc. They were the ones who informed my poor mother that the MGM Grand no longer had the lone "Spooky Match And Win" game she played the year prior.

As far as other aspects of "atmosphere," this is a relatively nondescript casino, especially on the casino floor.

Gaming Options/Player's Club

I have a very simple gambling philosophy: I sit down at a slot machine with $5.00. I work it up to $10 or down to zero. I know my limits: I can afford to lose $5.00. So, when I am above that, I'll usually work it up or whittle it down to the next even $5.00. Have a strategy, know your limits: the MGM Grand Casino worked quite well for me. I arrived, failed to find the video slot machine my mother had been waiting all year to return to and I sat down at Mermaid's Gold and won fifteen dollars. I cashed out then and walked around the rest of the time; my mother was pretty sullen.

I'm primarily a slot machine player and I have no shame in admitting, I tend to like the ones that are more girly themed or video game-like. The MGM Grand had a very standard selection of video slot machines, including Enchanted Unicorn, the new Goldfish Gold, "Alien," Wheel of Fortune, Deal Or No Deal, and hundreds of others. The MGM Grand had a pretty decent selection and I recall when looking around upon first entering that there were several banks of virtually every game they had. The MGM Grand is especially proud of its progressive slots, which offer a huge jackpot when they hit, but those are not truly my thing. This was also the casino where I saw that they had the highest limit video slots and those were pretty terrifying for a person like me who plays the penny machines!

For those who might be into games of chance and card games instead of the fun and controlled reinforcement of video slot machines, there are several tables with table games, including a twenty-two table nonsmoking poker room! As well, they have the standard tables of blackjack, roulette wheels, seven card stud, Texas Hold-em, and Omaha. This is definitely a place not only trading on slot/video poker play as they devote a fair amount of space to the card/table games. There is also a sports betting segment, but that's not truly my thing.

There is a player's club at the MGM Grand, which is the MGM Mirage Players Club. Signing up is easy and there was no line when I went to sign up. There was nothing free for signing up when I went and for a casino so large, that seemed awfully chintzy to me.

Points here are accrued based upon how much money one bets in combination with time spent at a machine. The points accrue through some mystery formula and by the time I left, I did not have many at all.

Entertainment Options

The MGM Grand Casino boasts entertainment and in the casino there was a lion cage exhibit (habitat) in the casino itself! This was pretty cool, especially after I became bored with the same old video slot machines. As well, they have a pretty impressive bevy of shows in the MGM Grand theater. In addition to being the Las Vegas home of Cirque Du Soleil, there are regular concerts by the likes of Wayne Newton, Chicago, David Copperfield, and Tom Jones!

As well, there is a Paris-themes cabaret act and a dance club at the MGM Grand.

Dining Options

The MGM Grand was part of a three casino day for me, on the first day I went there (the other nights I came to it after dinner), so I did not dine at this casino. However, the MGM Grand has at least twenty dining options, though most of them are fine dining establishments.

For those who aren't just planning to drink their way through the MGM Grand, there is a sushi bar, a chinese restaurant, a steakhouse, a seafood restaurant, as well as a Wolfgang Puck restaurant and Joel Robuchon. For cheapskates like me, there is also a casual Emeril's and a buffet. There's even a Starbucks at the MGM Grand!

Shopping Options

The MGM Grand has a few big names to shop at outside the hotel gift shop. There was a florist, a Harley Davidson clothier, as well as jewelers, men's and women's clothing (Armani, Versace), and souvenirs of the MGM Grand itself.

Like most shopping at a casino in Las Vegas, it's ridiculously expensive to shop at the MGM Grand.


The MGM Grand might well be incredible for casino enthusiasts, but after hitting several casinos in Las Vegas, each and every one had something more distinctive to it than the MGM Grand (even if what it has was negative!). The MGM Grand was huge, but the video slot machines were pretty much the typical ones everyone else had and it was, overall, a pretty bland place.

For other casino reviews, please check out my takes on:
Las Vegas Hilton Casino
Fallsview Casino - Ontario
Vernon Downs Casino


For other destination reviews, please be sure to check out my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing of all I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
MGM Grand Hotel and Casino
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No End In Sight For The Wonderful Happy Endings! Season Two Continues Strong!

The Good: Funny, Actual character development, Decent performances, Good self-referential qualities.
The Bad: I could always use more DVD bonus features, A few episodes that do not replay as well.
The Basics: In its second season, Happy Endings builds very well upon the characters it established in the first season, making it a wonderful DVD release!

There are few shows these days that my wife and I stop everything for each week and just sit and watch. Happy Endings is one of them. Happy Endings had an ambitious and very funny first season (reviewed here!) and we approached the second season with a real sense of enthusiasm. In fact, my wife and I were surprised that Damon Wayans Jr. even appeared in the pilot of New Girl; Happy Endings is such a strong show, how could it go off the air prematurely?! The second season of Happy Endings, illustrated that the show has staying power. How much? So much that even recurring performances by Megan Mullally – arguably the most overrated, obnoxious, one-note actress to ruin everything she touches – cannot shake my enjoyment in the season!

In the second season of Happy Endings, the show builds on its Friends-style accessibility where six people hang out and get into potentially problematic situations, while growing closer. With more references and in-jokes, Happy Endings seems to realize it is becoming a phenomenon. As a result, the second season presents fourth-wall breaking comments like Penny addressing her use of uh-mah-zing and the recurring presence of Derrick, whom Max once used to illustrate to Penny how irksome her stereotype of gay actually was.

The second season finds Jane and Brad’s marriage going strong, Alex actually moving on to date more and Penny trying to rally for a good year as her Year Of Penny begins. Steak Me Home Tonight continues to offer Dave opportunities for growth and Max actually lands himself a functional relationship . . . which upsets him more than he thought possible. The plots are pretty standard, like Jane and Brad faking an annual fight when a real conflict between them breaks out and Alex trying to break Dave of his interest in v-neck t-shirts. The comedic power of Happy Endings in its second season comes from witty dialogue and hilarious cutaway gags.

Like most great television shows – even sitcoms – Happy Endings is all about the characters in the second season. The primary characters continue to be:

Penny Hartz – Determined to have a good year where she stops dating losers and making the same mistakes, Penny buys a condo, takes in Alex and confronts her mother about her perpetual optimism. She exhibits her parental instincts when helping Max babysit and dates Dave’s psychologist. She also dates a guy whom she is determined not to change for nor change into what she wants. She develops some genuine feelings for Dave, well beyond the sex dreams of him that come when she drinks his signature drink,

Max Blum – He plods along doing whatever he can for money and living with Dave until he sees just how easily he has cast aside potential partners. When one of his ex’s comes back into his life on Valentine’s Day, Max tries to make a genuine change. His limo business continues running, though he gets a lot of help from his friends to stay afloat,

Dave Rose – Dating pretty steadily now, he goes into therapy and begins to reform a genuine friendship with Alex. When they accidentally sleep together, he is convinced by her that it did not actually happen and he works hard to get a liquor license for Steak Me Home Tonight. Jealous of Max’s new boyfriend, he picks up a motorcycle . . . with disastrous results,

Alex Kerkovich – Almost entirely over Dave now, she moves in with Penny and begins seriously dating once again. She faces off with the new wave of popular girls when her store becomes a popular hangout and the sales of baby-t’s explode. She is mistaken for a drag queen at Halloween, is treated like a queen by a new suitor whom Penny rejected, and takes in a racist parrot. She gives up alcohol and shows Dave how bullies work,

Jane Kerkovich-Williams – Still happily married to Brad, she uses her sorority sister’s failure to come for a visit as an excuse to have a home spa experience. She and Brad have a real fight which marks the beginning of Spring and she shows Alex how to brainwash Dave by illustrating her technique on Brad. She stops being uptight when she learns how to “sleep on” an idea,
and Brad Williams – Happily married to Jane, he nevertheless lies to her about going away on business as an excuse to stay in Chicago and relax in a hotel on his own. He and Alex bond over romantic comedies and he experiences his first cavity, which knocks him out for Valentine’s Day. Befriending the mailman with Dave leads to an awkward situation.

On the acting front, Happy Endings continues strong in its second season. While guest stars like Michael McKean, Ed Begley Jr., and Megan Mullally pop up, Happy Endings is still dominated by the six stars of the show. Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert, Zachary Knighton, Adam Pally, Damon Wayans Jr. and Casey Wilson all have great chemistry with one another and this season, they seem more comfortable in their roles.

Funny, with wonderful characters and great dialogue/situations, Happy Endings Season Two is well worth picking up!

For other works with Damon Wayans Jr., be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Other Guys
Dance Flick


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the shows and seasons I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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As The Line Was Dying, We Got "Kang:" A Better Sculpt With Less Articulation!

The Good: Generally good sculpt and balance
The Bad: Unfortunately less articulated, Accessory coloring
The Basics: Despite being a generally good sculpt, Kang is poorly colored (especially on the accessories) and poorly articulated, making for a mediocre Klingon figure.

When toy companies are in danger of losing the toy license for their previously most successful toy lines, they either push out the last few amazing toys or they churn out some real crap. Unfortunately, in the case of Playmates Toys, which dominated the Star Trek toy market in the 1990s, they went the latter direction. In 1998 when the Warp Factor Series 4 set of toys was being released, they were desperately filling in gaps in the Star Trek franchise and Series 4 was released only for the die-hard collectors.

It is in this series that we got Kang, the venerable Klingon warrior as he appeared on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Blood Oath" (reviewed here!). And while the idea for a Kang figure is not an inherently bad one, Playmates released the figure hastily with less articulation than earlier Star Trek franchise figures. Playmates had improved their ability to produce wicked sculpts and even improved the paint process with Kang, but the figure is still far less than it could be because of the lack of articulation.


The Star Trek Warp Factor Series of action figures contained only five figures in the Series 4 Assortment and it was an unfocused collection that featured supporting and background characters from Star Trek and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In fact, only the real fans who truly loved the Star Trek franchise were likely to even recognize Kang the Klingon, Keiko O'Brien (reviewed here!), Intendant Kira or Trelane and the Andorian. I suspect most random toybuyers saw the blue guy in the pink feather boa and used this as an argument to never watch Star Trek! Still, Kang is a pretty popular Klingon, at least with those who follow Klingons and Klingon collectibles.

The Kang figure is the aged Klingon warrior as he appeared in "Blood Oath," so this is the typical Klingon appearance, as opposed to his appearance in the original Star Trek. This is Kang with a white streak of hair, a fur outfit and medals on it. The action figure is made entirely of plastic, but with a good sense of texture to sell the concept of the outfit and the armor.

Standing four and one-half inches tall, this is a decent likeness of Kang immortalized in plastic. The character is molded in a battle-ready semi-squat with his hands molded opposite ways (the right is facing down, the left if palm-up. There is a decent level of uniform detailing. Still, some of the painting is sloppy; the medals on Kang's chest have a sloppy coat of paint that did not even cover all of the molded pieces, for example. Kang's face is molded in a determined and neutral expression which lacks much in the way of detail. The lips, for example, are not even colored. The figure includes such important details as the distinctive Klingon head ridges and the facial hair molded into the plastic and then highlighted with paint details. The face and hair lack any sense of realistic toning and Kang's hair ends in a ponytail which inhibits most of the head's movement.

The paint job is mediocre at best. The skin tones are monolithic brown and lack any shading or subtlety. There is no shading to the head ridges. The uniform is appropriately colored and the figure looks good in that respect. The fact that Kang's leather pants look a little too orange is a little disappointing, but not a dealbreaker.


Kang comes with only four accessories and the lack of quality to them is what ultimately sunk my ability to recommend this figure. The accessories are: A Klingon Disruptor pistol, Bat'leth sword, a Klingon Mevak dagger and an action base shaped like a Klingon Symbol. That Kang comes with weapons makes a great deal of sense, as his appearance on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a mission of vengeance where he went off to kill an albino Klingon. The Action base is just enough to support Kang and is a Klingon symbol appropriately colored in red and yellow. The center of the spike on the base has a peg which fits into the hole in either of Kang's feet!

The Klingon disruptor pistol is the exact same one that had been used with Klingon figures since the Klingon Warrior Worf action figure. This is a 1 1/2" little gun that has decent surface detailing, but no coloring detail. It has the appropriate curved stock. Unfortunately, while it may fit in Kang's left hand, it looks pretty ridiculous there and the only way for him to look like he's aiming it to shoot is to have him do a sideways grip (a la Pulp Fiction).

The bat'leth is a curved Klingon sword molded with appropriate hand grips and four points. It looks realistically cast, but is larger than the previously molded bat'leth swords. The figure is molded with the intent that Kang would hold the bat'leth in a two-handed grip and he may do that . . . poorly. The accessory is poorly colored featuring no surface details, so it looks like a big brown boomerang in his hands.

The Mevak dagger is a wicked little one and one-half inch choking hazard that fits into either of Kang's hands, but he may look only like he is about to stab himself! All three accessories outside the base are cast in a turd-brown plastic that is utterly lacking in realistic coloring details.


Kang came at the end of the line, as Playmates abandoned trying to keep customers happy and churned out some figures that were just lame (almost literally). Molded in a very limited pose, this might not be a bad sculpt of Kang, but it is very low on the playable aspects. While Kang stands up while flatfooted or on his action base, he barely moves when there. Kang is endowed with only eight points of articulation: groin socket, elbows, shoulders, neck, and waist. All of the joints, save the elbows, are simple swivel joints. As a result, the neck turns left to right, for example, but the head cannot nod. Kang's head is further inhibited by the pony tail which is made of stiff plastic on the back of the head. Similarly, the shoulders are not ball and socket joints and only rotate and the Kang figure does not feature the usual bicep joints to mitigate this limitation.

For use with actual play, Kang may bend or extend at the elbows, which offers a greater amount of movement potential . . . unless one has him holding his bat'leth. With his major accessory, he is very limited in his movement and without it, he can shoot the floor or stab himself! On his base, Kang is quite stable, so he may display well if one finds a good pose for him.


Playmates under produced the final waves of Star Trek figures, including the Warp Factor Series 4 set. Even so, collector demand for Kang was easily met and this figure has generally not appreciated since.

That said, at least Playmates tried to make the figures collectible. The Kang figures have an individual number on the bottom of his right foot. In the attempt to make them appear limited, they had numbers stamped on them, though one has to seriously wonder how limited something should be considered when there are at least 15,000 figures out there (my Kang is #014847!).


Kang might be a decent sculpt, but he has a mediocre paint job and represents a lowering of quality standards at Playmates Toys. Even die-hard fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would have to figure out a good reason to keep this very average figure around.

For other Klingon figures, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Ambassador K’Ehleyr
General Chang


For other Star Trek toy reviews, please check out my Star Trek toy review page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Gul Dukat Resurfaces With A New “Covenant” And Some Old Appetites!

The Good: Decent character development, Good acting
The Bad: Very predictable plot.
The Basics: When Kira is transported to Empok Nor, she finds Dukat in charge of a Pah-wraith cult that he is hoping she will join.

Sometimes, the fundamental problem with an episode of television or a movie is not so much what is in the work as what is lacking from it. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had remarkably few episodes that could be characterized as “formulaic” or “predictable,” but “Covenant” in the seventh season certainly was one of them. While the episode is not actually bad, it lacks a certain spark to allow one to consider it anywhere near extraordinary.

Even so, “Covenant” is not bad and it marks the return of Gul Dukat to the Star Trek universe. For the first time since “Tears Of The Prophets” (reviewed here!), Dukat appears and there is a sense that he has been on a somewhat singular quest since he was last seen. Like a few episodes before, “Covenant” is very much a piece that focuses on Dukat and Kira Nerys. This time, they square off as a very different sort of adversary; people coming from diametrically opposed religious beliefs!

After being moved by a sermon on the importance of forgiveness, Kira meets with Vedek Fala, one of the religious figures from her youth. Begging her forgiveness, Fala gives Kira a transponder and she is immediately beamed away. Materializing in Empok Nor, Deep Space Nine’s abandoned sister station in Dominion space, Kira is shocked to find a community of Bajorans. The group is an organization that worships the Pah-wraiths and Kira is even more surprised to discover that Dukat is their religious leader.

Shocked that Bajorans would be willing to lay down their lives to protect Dukat and distressed that Fala is one of Dukat’s followers, Kira interacts with the followers and attempts to challenge them. One of the Bajoran women, a married woman named Mika, is very pregnant and when her child is born, it confirms that Dukat has not changed all of his ways. As Dukat attempts to spin the birth of a half-Cardassian baby to his followers, Kira works to stop him and escape from the distant outpost.

What is most disappointing about “Covenant” is how the writers of the episode mortgage a real opportunity for character growth for the character of Dukat in favor of a remarkably predictable Jonestown-style cult story. The first half of the episode, wherein Kira is forced to wrestle with the idea that Dukat may well have turned over a new leaf and is actually leading a community of Bajorans successfully is remarkably engaging. However, when Mika gives birth, the episode takes a turn into the unfortunately obvious. Dukat is, once again, backed into a corner and it is hard to stomach given how he has been touched by the Pah-wraiths before now and in the final arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he is truly their most devout follower.

As a result, it seems irksome that Dukat, who was initially characterized as a deeply determined individual, would not be able to control his own libido. Dukat makes a reasonably convincing spiritual leader in “Covenant” and while I usually thrill over seeing a televangelist brought down by their own hypocrisy, in “Covenant,” it just seems lazy. The debate between the role the Prophets have played in Bajor’s history versus the role the Pah-wraiths could play is an intriguing one. That debate is cut short by problems with the messenger (Dukat) as opposed to a fundamental issue with the philosophies.

That said, Marc Alaimo makes an electric return to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as (no longer Gul ) Dukat. Alaimo is articulate and presents Dukat without anger (until the final scene) in a way that makes it undeniable that the character believes in the faith he is espousing. While it is difficult to assess whether or not he truly cares about Bajor, Dukat is completely invested in the Pah-wraiths and Alaimo eliminates any trace of Dukat’s former craziness from the presentation to sell that.

Nana Visitor, as always, plays opposite Alaimo with an excellent adversarial chemistry. In “Covenant,” Kira cannot simply take a swing a Dukat or shoot him (as she quickly discovers). Visitor, then, is forced to play Kira throughout the episode with a quiet rage and she tightens her body language to help embody that constant anger. She does that remarkably well.

It is also worth noting that “Covenant” has one of the wonderful scenes that illustrates genuine chemistry between Odo and Kira. As the episode opens, Odo laments to Bashir and Dax how his lack of faith means that he has less time to spend with Kira. It’s a nice scene and it illustrates well how Odo’s character has grown. It also affords Rene Auberjonois and Nana Visitor a nice opportunity to play some mature on-screen chemistry and that works out nicely.

Ultimately, though, “Covenant” is a simple, predictable story that leaves little room for analysis or debate. This is simply another important step in moving the characters on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to their fates at series’ end.

[Knowing that the season is a much better investment, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which provides the full story for the conclusion to the series. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please be sure to visit my organized listing of them through the Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Clunky And Obscure, The Princess Leia (Sandstorm Outfit) Vintage Collection Star Wars Figure Is Still Pretty Cool!

The Good: Wonderful coloring detail, Good accessories, Amazing articulation
The Bad: Cloaks are bulky and look ridiculous.
The Basics: The Vintage Collection Princess Leia (Sandstorm Outfit) takes a deleted Return Of The Jedi scene and inspires a popular figure to get covered up!

Sometimes, I luck out living in the middle of nowhere. After Easter, I was doing some shopping locally and I was thrilled to discover the new Star Wars Vintage Collection toy line that included the Sandstorm Outfit figures. I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, that the only figure missing from the assortment was the Princess Leia (Sandstorm Outfit) action figure. So, I bought the four that were in the store and I went on my way. Three days later, I was in the same store and I stopped by the toy department again and lo and behold, there was the Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia figure! Reasoning that this might be the only opportunity I would get to find this figure, I purchased it right then!

For those unfamiliar with the Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia, that is not terribly surprising as she was part of one of the deleted scenes from Return Of The Jedi (reviewed here!) that was only restored in the deleted scenes for the Blu-Ray release of the Star Wars Saga. The Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia is Princess Leia after she and the other Rebels have destroyed Jabba’s Sail Barge. En route to the Millennium Falcon, the heroes get caught up in a sandstorm. So, Leia is bundled up in robes over her metal bikini in order to be protected from the wind and dirt.

The 4" Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia appears to be the earlier Vintage Collection Slave Leia action figure with an additional cloth cloak tossed over her!


The Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia figure stands 3 1/4" tall to the top of her head. She is a mixture of soft plastic elements and cloth components for her loincloth skirts and her Sandstorm cloak.

This toy is a good sculpt, but it runs into the fundamental problem that Slave Leia figures have; how to create an articulated figure for a character who is barely clothed without making it look ridiculous. Hasbro went for articulation on this figure, as opposed to worrying about the look of all the joints. As a result, this Leia features the iconic slightly-green metal bikini and maroon skirts and then covers it with an awkward cloth poncho. The face and hair of the figure look very much like Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, though and the toymakers were careful enough to include such details as the character’s earrings!

What left me slightly unimpressed about this figure is how the coloring details do not match the character. This truly is just a Slave Leia figure with additional cloaks (and no chain). As a result, the Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia does not have a dirty face and does not look like she is at all weathered. Outside the uniformed skin tones, the figure looks well-colored, with aspects like the clips in her hair being appropriately colored a brass color. Most of the coloring details for the character, like of the metal bikini, are hidden beneath the cloak, which is a monotonal tan piece of fabric that looks bulky and ridiculous on her.


The Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia is one of the most accented Slave Leia’s ever to hit the market. As such, she comes with three accessories: a plastic hood, a force pike and goggles. The hood is a tan plastic molded accessory that is 2” tall. Intended to look like a wrap around Leia’s head, it is unfortunately not the same color as the poncho Leia comes wearing! Moreover, without the poncho on, the hood looks even more ridiculous, though it looks pretty incongruous on her as it is!

The goggles are 3/8” wide and slide perfectly over the figure’s eyes. They are white with clear lenses and they allow the figure to look very much like she did in the deleted scene!

Finally, the Princess Leia (Sandstorm Outfit) figure features a force pike. The 3 7/8” staff features a paddle at one end and the finest tip on the other Hasbro has yet made for the accessory. Colored copper and gunmetal, the force pike fits in either or both of Leia’s hands and matches the shockingly “clean” look of the rest of the figure.


The four inch toy line was designed for play and the Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia is good in that regard. First, the figure has great balance. Flatfooted, the Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia is absolutely solid, and because of the lower half articulation of the figure, she has decent posing options. The holes in the bottom of her feet allow her to stand tall on any number of playsets in outlandish poses or sit fairly well. All her articulation does not allow her to do is lay sideways, like she does before Jabba!

The Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia holds up exceptionally well in the articulation department. It has hinged ball and socket joints at the ankles, knees, elbows and shoulders, as well as a ball and socket joint which allows a great range of motion for the head and another for the bustline. Even the figure’s ponytail does not inhibit the poseability of the figure’s head! The wrists and groin socket both have simple swivel joints that provide the figure with more than enough posing options to make the figure worthwhile!


The Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia is part of the Vintage Collection line that was released in 2012 and it remains one of the harder ones to find at the moment. The Sandstorm Outfit Princess Leia is Vintage Collection figure VC88 and given how most Slave Leia figures have risen in value, this looks like a pretty obvious choice for fans to buy. Despite being fairly well available now, this seems like a very safe bet as an investment figure at this time.


The Princess Leia (Sandstorm Outfit) action figure might not be the best Leia figure, but it is a marked improvement on the original Princess Leia figures and its poseability cannot be beat! Even so, it is a pretty weak “recommend” that I grant this figure.

For other Princess Leia figures, please check out my reviews of:
12” Sideshow Collectibles Princess Leia As Boushh Doll
Legacy Collection Slave Leia
Original Trilogy Collection Bespin Princess Leia
Power Of The Jedi Deluxe Princess Leia With Sail Barge Cannon
Power Of The Force Princess Leia In Ewok Celebration Gown
Power Of The Force Hoth Princess Leia
Shadows Of The Empire Princess Leia as Boushh


For other Star Wars toy reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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